Monday, February 26, 2007

Modern Feminism & Structural Gender Bias

This topic is hard for me to fully articulate, partly because I am just beginning to understand my own thoughts. Let me begin with a quote:

"We who like the children of Israel have been wandering in the wilderness of prejudice and ridicule for forty years feel a peculiar tenderness for the young women on whose shoulders we are about to leave our burdens...The younger women are starting with great advantage over us. They have the results of our experience; they have superior opportunities for education; they will find a more enlightened public sentiment for discussion; they will have more courage to take the rights which belong to them...Thus far women have been the mere echoes of men. Our laws and constitutions, our creeds and codes, and the customs of social life are all of masculine origin. The true woman is yet a dream of the future."

Elizabeth Cady Stanton,
at the age of 72, speaking to the
International Council of Women, 1888

Perhaps Stanton is right--today's women (in certain countries) have access to greater resources. However, I still have this feeling of "I belong to the wrong time period" when I read great feminist writers of the past. A great compilation, Feminism, The Essential Historical Writings, by Miriam Schneir, features tidbits from Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Mary Wollstonecraft, Margaret Sanger, Abigail Adams, Virginia Woolf...the list goes on.

My question to myself has been: I read such works like a kid in a candy store. I soak it all up, wish I were there, wish I were a part of it--but why? What makes feminism so different now?

I have finally found my answer--and that is, now (western) society faces a different sort of gender bias. The first wave feminists fought contingent gender bias, that is behavior or stricture that is visible and clearly sexist; a cultural bias that constrains the choices of women. Example: excluding women from voting or owning property.

Two waves later, we face structural gender bias, which is opaque, socially implicit, and not visible--a bias toward a masculinist perspective. This would include differences in socialization for boys and girls, language, customs, etc. Generally, these are practices we take for granted.

So, to a certain extent, I challenge Stanton's statement. I think it is a much different experience to point out and fight against something explicit and wholly obvious. The challenge today is to point out the in-obvious, the invisible...

On top of this, feminist thought has developed more all together. The first wave movement was a middle/upper class movement--poor women were not so concerned with voting rights as with labor laws. The feminist evolution has expanded to include the intersections of sex with gender, sexuality, race, ethnicity, etc.

I think that pushing these concepts is much more complex than pointing out that women are not allowed in school, (not to belittle that fight, because it was incredible and I wish I had been there).

How I will fight as a feminist--and I define that term to include fighting against homophobia, racism, classism, etc--is much more abstract. I have been wondering, rather mentally beating myself, about what I will do to further the movement...when I will begin...and what changes I will make. Then I realized, simply through being myself, through my own beliefs and goals...I am advancing the cause.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Purity Balls: Promising Daddy to save your flower

Jennifer Baumgardner wrote a thorough piece for Glamour magazine, "Would you pledge your virginity to your father?" A world of ballrooms and tiaras, this event is sort of bat mitzvah meets sweet 16 meets chastity belt.

Typically, this black-tie events hosts a slew of father-daughter pairs...who spend the evening dancing, taking vows, and exchanging rings. Vows include chivalrous promises that daddy will guard his daughters hymen, and that dear daughter will promise to remain chaste until she weds. Baumgardner includes a quote from Pastor Randy Wilson, host of the event and cofounder of the ball:

Are you ready to war for your daughters’ purity?”

Hardly an event from Hollywood, Purity Balls take place regularly in the south and Midwest. Although the entire get-up seems bizaare at least, sexist and antedulluvian at has an incredible following, and daughters return with fathers every year, well up into mid-twenties (I suppose however long it takes for Prince Charming to arrive on his white horse). To cater to such crowds, Generations of Light (among other invitation and decorations services) explains and promotes the event, declaring:

"The Father Daughter Purity Ball is a memorable ceremony for fathers to sign commitments to be responsible men of integrity in all areas of purity. The commitment also includes their vow to protect their daughters in their choices for purity. The daughters silently commit to live pure lives before God through the symbol of laying down a white rose at the cross. Because we cherish our daughters as regal princesses—for 1 Peter 3:4 says they are “precious in the sight of God”—we want to treat them as royalty."

Baumgardner does the research and makes the critical points:

"Many experts strongly disagree. “Virginity pledges set girls up for failure,” contends Kindlon, who specializes in adolescent behavior. “I like the father-daughter bonding part of the balls, but it is unfortunate that it is around a pledge that is doomed. I always counsel parents to try to encourage teens to delay sex. But when you completely forbid teens to be sexual, it can do them more harm than good. It’s like telling kids not to eat candy, and then they want it more.”

“When you sign a pledge to your father to preserve your virginity, your sexuality is basically being taken away from you until you sign yet another contract, a marital one,” worries Eve Ensler, the writer and activist. “It makes you feel like you’re the least important person in the whole equation. It makes you feel invisible.”

It’s not hard to imagine the anxiety young women must feel about being a purity failure. Carol-Maureen, an acquaintance from my hometown of Fargo, North Dakota, who got a purity ring in seventh grade and still wears it at 22, told me, “If I had sex before marriage and my parents found out, I’d be mortified. I’d feel like I failed in this promise to them, even though it’s really not their business.”

But the real challenge, in my mind, is for a father to remain loving toward his daughter and at the same time nurture her autonomy. The purity movement is, in essence, about refusing to let girls grow up: Daddy’s girls never have to be adults. “The balls are saying, I want you to be 11 forever,” says Kindlon. These are girls who may never find out what it means to make decisions without a man involved, to stand up for themselves, to own their sexuality.

I deeply wish that the lovely things I have seen tonight—the delighted young women, the caring, doting dads—might evolve into father-daughter events not tied to exhorting a promise from a girl that may hang over her head as she struggles to become a woman. When Lauren Wilson hit adolescence, her father gave her a purity ring and a charm necklace with a tiny lock and key. Randy Wilson took the key, which he will hand over to her husband on their wedding day. The image of a locked area behind which a girl stores all of her messy desires until one day a man comes along with the key haunts me. By the end of the ball, as I watch fathers carrying out sleepy little girls with drooping tiaras and enveloping older girls with wraps, I want to take every one of those girls aside and whisper to them the real secret of womanhood: The key to any treasure you’ve got is held by one person—you."

Other points circulate in the blogosphere:

"I can't fault what I see as the root impulse for the purity balls, but I'm glad that my expression of the desire to keep my daughter safe is not that one. Because if you really want to fetishize sex for a little girl, I really can't think of a more effective way to do it than something like a purity ball. And you know what? Fetishizing sex for little girls is so very much not what I want to be doing with my time."

While these points are valid and well-articulated, they do not touch on the real question of sexism. Where are the purity balls for sons? Why are they excluded? Is it because boys can protect themselves without daddy? Or does their purity not matter?

Although I find the entire get-up distasteful and against my beliefs, I can understand why one would value this idea of "saving it until you are married." But what I do not tolerate is demanding this of one child, and not the other.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

little ducky

little ducky with lots of legs...

interesting genetic mutation.

Friday, February 16, 2007

The Autopen and Politics

I work for an elected official, and I must say, the autopen gives me much grief. I (was) very proud to say that in the 5th grade, I received a letter from Bill Clinton, who was serving as President at the time. It just may have been the single most thrilling event of my elementary school career. Even at the age of 10, I was skeptical, and upon investigation, concluded that it had to have been real, because the signature was made of real pen ink.

Imagine my horror when, on my first day of work, I spent 3 hours autopening letters to eagle scouts. Bill Clinton never read my letter. Our connection was fraudulent.

I have come to learn, and myself execute, the political response to constituent mail: a letter drafted by office personnel (and depending on the letter, proof-read by said elected official)...and then the swift glide of the autopen to seal the deal.

But this practice is completely unethical. It is misleading, and it is a lie. Listen little Toby, the President, the Congressmember...whomever...none of them know about how many cookies you sold, your great idea to end the war, or what the hell you did in school. This is a strategy so that you believe your representative has some sort of personal investment in you. S/he does not. But yes, on her/his behalf, the office gives a raisenette of a turd--and you are entitled to know what you are getting.

True, political figures do not have time to send out thousands upon thousands of letters--but that does not legitimize lying. I understand the benefit of sending out awards and letters, but in order to make this practice ethical, such documents should be signed:

From the office of,
(insert fake signature here)

Perhaps this sounds like a trivial issue--and to some extent it is. But I think it is representative of a larger ideological issue: what lengths individuals go to maintain a political image--and how this fake correspondence is so valued that it remains acceptable. And of course, there are those who think the autopen signature is real. I feel for you--I was once in your shoes. And now, I help perpetrate this offense.

From now on, I will refuse to autopen.

Of course, we cannot forgot the outrage against Donald Rumsfeld for (his office) sending condolence letters to the families of killed soldiers--signed by Rummy's autopen. The blogosphere has other opinions on the matter. View of the Republic writes:

"The neo-libs have nothing to accuse Rumsfeld of profesionally, so they go on the "he's a heartless bastard and therefore is unfit to be in charge of the troops" ploy. So what if he is? He's damn good at running the military, so maybe the neo-libs should just get over this auto-pen issue. Would you really feel better knowing that your son died in Iraq...but Rumsfeld hand signed a letter to you? Big whoop."

I think View of the Republic loses validity in his statement, because he is not addressing the actual issue of the autopen--rather taking one isolated example and turning it into partisan warfare. What does this controversy mean? Is the use of the autopen only appropriate within a certain context? Is the autopen acceptable as long as some innocent schmuck thinks the signature is real--or doesn't care either way? Is it okay except for when the subject is someone's death?

My opinion: if you did not write something yourself, do not pretend you did, or mislead your readers.

From the office of,

Sunday, February 11, 2007


Despite criticism cleverly titled "Whateve(red)," Gap's (RED) initiative is a productive and viable tool of social awareness and change, regardless of it's profitable marketing perks. The Pigeonhole writes, "Product (RED) taps into the beast that is American consumerism," and that "Everybody's concerned about getting tested for HIV, sex education, and treatment, but those poor people still go home to crappy shacks with bad water." Additionally, the sensationalizing of HIV/AIDS undermines other critical issues, such as "diarrhea-- a CURABLE disease."

The commercially-invoked mobilization against AIDS is admirable, even though it is rooted in consumerism. Executive Director of the Global Fund comments:

“RED is not a charity or public fundraising campaign. It is a business proposition that brings together partners with distinct priorities into a mutually beneficial relationship. Companies expand their customer base and bottom-line by combining their products with a brand that is both culturally significant and compassionate, while the Global Fund and its recipients gain not only critical financial resources but also publicity for their work."

While that does not sound very warm and fuzzy, why not re-work the machine for humanitarian purposes? In response to concerns that HIV/AIDS is not the only issue, and that impoverished people face other life-threatening obstacles--there is no end to the list of injustices that demand attention: climate changes, slaughtered horses, abused children, trafficking women/children, foster care, elder abuse, political corruption, racism, unequal education, police brutality...need I continue? To pit one tragedy against the other is subjective, circular, and unproductive.

In fact, the success of products geared towards HIV/AIDS relief is nothing short of uplifting for The Pigeonhole. With the proper implementation, we can curb global diarrhea with a dark brown shirt, and I would be quite thankful to whatever corporation facilitates that process. Despite questions of "why isn't Bono jumping on the anti-diarrhea bandwagon? Maybe it's too difficult to come up with a diarrhea ribbon, or celebrities are afraid of attaching themselves to a highly unattractive disease." I would argue that the unattractiveness of diarrhea is not the culprit--rather that in America it is not perceived as life-threatening, and without proper education, the notion of dying from it may seem far-fetched. With that in mind, "sensationalizing" diarrhea would be extremely productive. Additionally, the fact that virtually everyone has suffered from diarrhea at some point may even serve as a commonality that drives action. I would also like to add that the level of "attractiveness" is not a factor in mobilization, because AIDS is not an "attractive" disease:

What are the later symptoms of HIV/AIDS?

"Lack of energy
Weight loss
Frequent fevers and sweats
A thick, whitish coating of the tongue or mouth (thrush) that is caused by a yeast infection and sometimes accompanied by a sore throat
Severe or recurring vaginal yeast infections
Chronic pelvic inflammatory disease or severe and frequent infections like herpes
Periods of extreme and unexplained fatigue that may be combined with headaches, light-headedness, and/or dizziness
Rapid loss of more than 10 pounds of weight that is not due to increased physical exercise or dieting
Bruising more easily than normal
Long-lasting bouts of diarrhea
Swelling or hardening of glands located in the throat, armpit, or groin
Periods of continued, deep, dry coughing
Increasing shortness of breath
The appearance of discoloured or purplish growths on the skin or inside the mouth
Unexplained bleeding from growths on the skin, from mucous membranes, or from any opening in the body
Recurring or unusual skin rashes
Severe numbness or pain in the hands or feet, the loss of muscle control and reflex, paralysis or loss of muscular strength
An altered state of consciousness, personality change, or mental deterioration
Children may grow slowly or fall sick frequently. HIV positive persons are also found to be more vulnerable to some cancers."

I am getting off-track, because my main intent is to point out why I think that charitable causes feeding off of consumerism are positive and necessary. I also want to defend Gap's (RED) products. When a (RED) product is purchased, 50% of profits are donated. I urge people to be wary of lines that claim to donate, but in reality, give little to nothing. Gap does not fit this profile. Additionally, $1 pins are available that contribute 100% to the AIDS relief. Also, for those who do not need a statement or public display on contribution, clothing items are available that have no appearance of being (RED)--like a plain, blue-and-white-striped shirt.

Although Apple can pretty much suck me sideways for the meager 10% contribution per red ipod sold, the fact remains that, if you are going to buy an ipod nano, might as well get a fucking red one. My younger brother really wanted an ipod for the holidays, and I found that getting him a red ipod was an educational tool that allowed me to get him a fun present, and expose him to a pressing matter of which he had no idea. And though I am critical for the 10% allocation, $20 multiplied by the thousands sold really does add up.

Lastly, because AIDS has been historically marginalized and ignored as a "gay" disease, I am glad that it is receiving attention.

Bottom line: a single person cannot donate to every fitting cause. Why, giving a helping-hand to every worthy cause would leave virtually everyone broke. Consequently, it is beneficial that everyday products such as t-shirts can be simultaneously fun to buy, useful, and charitable. We live in a consumerist society; therefore, until the revolution, let us use consumerism to some sort of genuine advantage.

I close this exhaustingly long entry with another reminder: it is not only the HIV/AIDS campaign that is gaining a little help from our capitalist friends. Ron Herman has a staple necklace line that donates 100% proceeds to Beit T'Shuvah, a rehabilitation program, and has other t-shirt lines, one of which benefits a program to help reformed gang members.

It is true that nothing replaces genuine concern or a plain old donation or volunteer hours. If some asshole thinks wearing a shirt or buying a red nose-hair trimmer is enough, that individual has a problem, not the process itself. Now, whether or not the infrastructure exists to properly implement proceeds of such ventures is a completely different story...

Monday, February 5, 2007


I find the film Norbit, starring Eddie Murphy, to be incredibly offensive...but perhaps more revealing, a blatant cultural commentary of social discrimination toward overweight individuals.

The entire advertising scheme, and I am assuming plot, revolves around projected ridicule of an obese person's sexuality. Consider the catchphrase--"Have you ever made a really big mistake?" Thus, having sex with an obese person is bad and should be regretted. The fact that this film is a comedy, that it will appeal to crowds, and can even make it in the entertainment industry suggests that the cultural collective mocks, and enjoys mocking, the overweight community, specifically drastically overweight individuals. Yet, this remains acceptable, humorous, and prevalent throughout television and film for children and adults, (yep, watch some Nick--I have a younger brother).

This sort of condoned behavior is oppressive, discriminatory, and regenerates the persecution of overweight individuals. To laugh along is to agree with the messages, and continue to embed such messages in yourself and in others.

Sexuality is perhaps one of the most personal characteristics of a person. To mock or disrespect that is incredibly violating and unhealthy.